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Back to the drawing board

A proposal for a 73-unit housing development in the middle of Penn Valley’s village center forced the Nevada County Planning Commission into a tricky predicament Thursday night.

Penn Valley Oaks provides what county planners have repeatedly asked for – high density housing concentrated in existing population centers and offered at moderate to low prices.

But the nine-acre project off Penn Valley Drive also would require amending the General Plan and expanding the community’s wastewater treatment plant. Eight acres of potential commercial land would be lost, and many Penn Valley residents would be left fuming.



“I’m usually decisive … but this one really troubles me,” said Commissioner Douglas Donesky, who represents the Penn Valley area.

Led by Donesky, the commission sent developer Casilli Partners back to the drawing board after hours of debate Thursday night, instructing representative Dale Creighton of SCO Planning and Engineering to cut a few houses and add a little spice to the mining-themed project.




The commissioners asked for a mix of one and two-story homes, a variety of street visages, and slightly curvy streets.

Overall, however, the commissioners indicated they will support a high-density housing development.

Anything denser than four homes per acre – the current project calls for eight homes per acre – is likely to offend many Penn Valley residents, however. Penn Valley Oaks is opposed by the Chamber of Commerce, the Penn Valley Community Association and the Western Gateway Recreation and Park District.

The nine community members who spoke Thursday criticized the project’s density, lack of sewer allocations, and its need for a General Plan amendment.

“If you’re going to amend the General Plan, you need extraneous circumstances. We’re not talking extraneous here – there are other places for people to live,” said Mark Rosso, a Penn Valley resident.

Rosso called the project an attempt to convert Penn Valley into “Roseville West.”

“I do believe in growth; I believe it’s inevitable,” Penn Valley resident Don Flint said. “But I believe in smart growth. … I think sardines have more room in the can.”

The housing would be relatively dense, but Creighton and project architect Tony Rosas said the density prevents sprawl and accords with county guidelines.

Wedged between a storage complex and a mobile home park, the site is not conducive to the large-lot development advocated by the neighbors, Rosas said.

“At the heart of this is it’s hard to look at a dense project in a rural area,” Rosas said. “But if you want affordability, this is a project that you’ll have to look at.”

As proposed, the project calls for 66 two-story single-family homes – priced from $240,000 to $360,000 – and seven lower-cost attached units, included to meet requirements for affordability. A trail and almost two acres of open space will provide access to Squirrel Creek, which clips a corner of the property. In addition, two commercial buildings will front Penn Valley Drive.

Because of the shortage of sewage-treatment capacity, Casilli Partners plans to build only 22 units up front, pursuing the rest of the project when and if additional treatment capacity is available.

The developer currently holds the fourth and fifth slots on the waiting list to acquire additional sewer-use permits. If the plan is approved, Casilli Partners would be required to pay for a $40,000 to $60,000 study of sewage treatment options.

In addition, the completed development would require filling a .4 acre wetland, which may or may not be natural, and removing an ailing heritage oak.

A compromise of sorts, proposed by Planning Commissioner Kurt Lorenz, would require Casilli Partners to trade development rights on an adjoining 20-acre parcel for the ability to construct dense housing. Creighton said the suggestion was “very doable” but would require crafting an agreement between the county’s Planning Department and Casilli Partners.

The Penn Valley Oaks project will return to the Planning Commission’s agenda for the July 22 meeting.


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